Syrian forces press Ghouta advance despite calls to end ‘bloodbath’


—Photo by AFP

DOUMA, Syria: Syrian government forces pounded rebel towns in Eastern Ghouta with air strikes on Monday, as troops edged closer to retaking the battered opposition enclave outside Damascus.

The regime advances in Eastern Ghouta came as a monitor reported more than 350,000 people killed in Syria’s war, and as hundreds fled a Turkish-led advance in the northern area of Afrin, where a Kurdish-majority city is also under threat of being besieged.

Syria’s civil conflict enters its eighth year this week with fighting on several fronts, but the assault on Eastern Ghouta has been one of the most ferocious of the war.

Since February 18, forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have retaken nearly 60 percent of the enclave, whittling down rebel territory to three isolated pockets.

Backed by Russia, the advance has battered Eastern Ghouta with air strikes, artillery and rocket fire, raising widespread international concern and prompting urgent calls for a ceasefire.

France’s envoy to the United Nations, Francois Delattre, on Monday urged Moscow to put pressure on its ally to halt the offensive, saying: “Russia can stop the bloodbath.”

Pro-regime forces advanced again on Monday, heavily bombing two rebel-controlled towns closest to the capital, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Air strikes and rocket fire slammed into the towns of Harasta and Arbin, the Britain-based monitor said, as the regime used the recently recaptured town of Medeira nearby as a launching pad for a ground assault.

Syrian state media also reported a government advance in Ghouta, seizing the town of Efteris to the south.

The other two areas still in rebel hands are Douma, the region’s biggest town in the north of the enclave, and the zone around Hammuriyeh and other towns to the south.—AFP